Today was the day of the April Game Director’s letter for three of the MMOs I subscribe to/pay for – Anarchy Online, Age of Conan and The Secret World. The reason for that is of course that the Game Directory is the very same person for all three of these games, Joel Bylos.
I like Joel. He has a mix of enthusiasm combined with a no-frills this-is-the-way-it-is approach in his writing, the latter in particular visible when he is replying to comments in the forums. For all three games he has been fairly quick to provide replies to comments and questions people have asked after reading the letter. This is a welcome approach and helps to clarify matters where needed (and possible).
I have read through all three letters and the forum comments made so far; I am going to make a few brief notes about this, going from the most negative to the most positive in terms of player response.
Another year has passed and it is time to look back a bit on my MMO gaming in 2012.
City of Heroes
For most of the year, City of Heroes was my base game, the one I always fallen back to after excursions to other MMOs. Except for the months July and August when I had a break from the game, this was one I played to the very end. I do very much miss the game and community, in particular on my main server Defiant. I still get sad about it from time to time. There has been a lot of discussion and speculation why it was shut down; it would be good at some point to hear actual reasons and a bit more specific than “change in policy”. It would also be good to hear why they handled the shutdown the way they did, but I guess that is not something we will ever hear.
I did also play some of the competition to City of Heroes in the superhero genre, both Champions Online and DC Universe Online. After all, I am a lifetime subscriber to Champions Online. There are certainly good things in Champions, but for me that is a game that I can only enjoy during short periods of time. Part of the reason for that is because some of the features and elements of the game felt like simple money-grabbing features – the crafting/harvesting is one of those. I initially liked the change they had made, but realized it was a broken design from a game-play perspective – which could be overcome somewhat by spending plenty of money. I am ok with spending money on a game that is “free to play”, but not when design seems to be broken on purpose for people to spend money.
DC Universe Online
Very late this year, after the shutdown of City of Heroes, I also tried out DC Universe Online again briefly. Previously I had played in on PS3, but this time was my first experience with the game on a PC. I liked it a little bit better on the PC, but in the end the controls and the horrible character creator and tutorial turned me off that game. That, and that I could not use my SOE acount either, but had to use a ProSieben1 (Alaplaya) account – plus that it was not possible to merge these two accounts either. Maybe I will give it ago at some point later, but the controls does put me off this game.
Star Wars – The Old Republic
During spring-time I also ventured into Star Wars – The Old Republic. It was really a great and fun game to play – at first. In the beginning it was very cool and fun to play and I enjoyed trying out most of the different classes available, up to the point that it was time to leave the starter areas. For continued play, I stuck with my Sith Sorcerer and it was a quite enjoyable ride for some time. In the long run though the non-class-story missions started to feel grindy though and even getting to the different points for the class story missions became grindy – which is when I lost interest. I reached about level 30 I believe. Maybe at some point I will give this game ago again; I did not read up closely on the details for the “free to play”, but it did not seem that it would require much or any money spent from my side really considering how I expect to play. This is probably a game I will return to at some point in 2013.
Early this sping I did play a bit of Anarchy Online as well and enjoyed it quite a bit; at least for some time. The setting is marvelous, even though the graphics are dated. While there are many nice people in the game, many are long time veterans that have played the game for years. Most of them started playing the game long after I initially played the game, so in calendar time I am “more veteran”, but a newbie in terms of played time in comparison. We do not quite play at the same level, unfortunately. I do hope for a revamp of some of the combat mechanics; it is too much reliant on auto-attack for my taste at the moment. I did sign up for a 12-month subscription close to the end of this year and I hope to jump back in the game during spring, hopefully when there may be some beta testing of a new New Player Experience and the new game engine.
Age of Conan
Late this spring I also jumped into Age of Conan. I do like this type of fantasy setting better than the typical high-fantasy-with-elves-and-dwarves settings one see in a lot of MMOs. I am not too keen on fantasy settings, but this one is at least more tolerable. In the end though it felt a bit empty – most active people seemed to be doing high-end raids and dungeons. The gold seller spam was also quite annoying. Plus, another Funcom game craved for some time and attention in the summer-time, with a more contemporary setting. Similar to Anarchy Online, if this game gets a bit more people playing in my level range and experience level I might try it out again.
I played Guild Wars a bit on and off during spring. This is a game I love returning too – every time I do I realize why this was my favourite fantasy MMO-type game. For some reason I do not stick around though – I have yet to figure out why that is. While I have completed all of the main campaigns in the game, there are other story-oriented content I have bought but not yet played and a number of things on my to-do list. Remains to see how many people still play this when Guild Wars 2 is the new kid from Arenanet.
One game that I played briefly in the beta, but did not write anything about, was Raiderz. For some reason I got an invite to the beta for this game, so I tried it out for a short time. I did not expect to like it, but I quite enjoyed the tutorial/starter area. It was a bit different and it was fun. Then I got to the main land and to me the game transformed a bit from quite fun to more of a normal fantasy MMO-with-a-bit-of-grind from Asia. Perhaps the launch version is better, but the fantasy setting did not thrill me though.
City of Steam
Industral Age fantasy with steampunk elements – that is how the setting for City of Steam is described as. This game have had four closed beta weekends during autumn/winter an d I have played a bit in these four weekends. A notable feature of this game is that is is a browser-based game – there is nothing to install (except for the Unity3D web player plugin). The game looks great for a browser-based game; I think it compares favourably to for example Runes of Magic (at least as I remember Runes of Magic). I thought the combat was pretty fun (dual-wielding “wands” that throw lightning balls – what is not to like… ). There are some design elements that I do not quite like or am on the fence about; but the interaction betweent he developers and the community is top notch I think. I would be happy to provide some support to the game because of this, even if I would end up not playing it so much. There will be an open beta later in 2013, but no dates are set yet. I will try it out again then.
Guild Wars 2
A big game of the year, but one I only played for about a week. Pre-ordered the game and played for almost a week – then NCSoft announed that they were going to terminate City of Heroes and Paragon Studios on August 31st. My focus switched to City of Heroes then after that weekend and I have not played Guild Wars 2 since that. I pretty much lost my urge to play the game during that period. Perhaps in 2013 if I get some cravings for fantasy settings I will try it out again. I am not sure that I will spend any money in the game though; I do have a bit of a trust issue with NCSoft corporate.
The Secret World
And finally, the game that for me has been the best still remaining game of the year. I played it a fair amount from early access to a few weeks after launch, then due to Real Life interfering activity dropped significantly during summer-time. The City of Heroes situation forced a pause from the game as well and now in December I picked up up for real again. The stories and missions are for the most part really quite enjoyable and I have gotten back into making builds/decks for my character, trying out different abilities and play styles & weapons. Contrary to most other MMOs I have mainly played melee-oriented combat in this game and I am quite enjoying it.
I have a lifetime subscription for the game and with the recent change I will get monthly bonus points to buy stuff for from the store. I will probably spend more than those points in the end – not because it would be necessary, but because I am more inclined to buy stuff just because I love the game and want to support it. The same thing happened in City of Heroes, so I suspect it will happen here.
In a couple of days City of Heroes will be end as a playable game and I will not longer have that game as a fallback when the MMO space looks a bit bleak at times.
The last months now has perhaps more than before put the spotlight, for me, the importance of the MMO game company’s interaction with its customers and game community. Not only is the presence of other players important, but also the relationship with a game company and the players of their game(s). Is there a passion for a game vision, a willingness to interact with the players, a mutual respect?
Combined with theme/settings preferences, this has resulted in a few games that I am going to look more into when City of Heroes comes to an end.
- The Secret World. I love the setting and what Funcom has tried to accomplish here, so I will most certainly return to TSW in about a week. Funcom is one of those MMO developers that ranks quite high on my list – they certainly mess things up from time to time, but sometimes it works out quite well. They do not try to play safe all the time, but do try new ways to do things and they do seem to be pasionate about what they do.
I have not come very far in my progress in TSW – my most played character is still in Blue Mountains – a zone which I thought was pretty ok actually, before I took a break to focus on City of Heroes. Not sure what the state of my cabal is at this point, but will see about that later.
- Anarchy Online. Another Funcom game and my first MMO. This is a game that probably does not have a huge amount of paying players and only a handful of developers working on the game. But Funcom still supports it and does not just try to keep a status quo and keep it running only.
The new game engine as well as a revamp of the new player experience is expected to go into beta early next year (yes, I know – the usual Real Soon Now, not holding my breath). Server merges for RK-1 and RK-2 is expected to happen before the end of this year.
While the new engine is interesting to see what comes out of it, I really also hope there will be some revamp of the combat eventually – it has been to much dependency towards auto-attacks for my taste.
- The Repopulation. A Scifi sandbox/sandpark:ish MMO under development. The feature list is quite neat,looks pretty niced from what has been shown so far and the developers behind it seems quite nice and passionate about what they do. I was a backer in their Kickstarter campaign and I will look forward to jump into a beta some time next year. They are amining for a late 2013 release – about a year from now.
- City of Steam. Another City of-game, but in this case an MMO with a steampunk:ish flavour. And it is a browser-based MMO, using the Unity engine. I have picked up a key for the closed beta. The game company, Mechanist Games, seems to be quite transparent and willing to interact with the players – I get a definite positive vibe from what I have seen so far here.
I have only played a little bit in closed beta so far. While I have not seen any any NDAs I will probably not write much details about it yet, since there is still changes being made and things missing. But I think it looks like a charming game with potential. CLosed beta weekends will continue in the coming month and I suppose an open beta at some point early next year.
The year 2011 has ended and we have started with 2012. The past year has been interesting in a few ways for me, but perhaps more in areas outside of MMO gaming. While I have been writing a couple of blog posts the past year (123 according to WordPress) I must say that I have felt less inspired when writing posts for large chunks of time.
I used to hop around quite a bit in different MMOs, but this year it has settled down a bit – the past few months I have been pretty much exclusively playing City of Heroes. The year started out with a few other titles though:
This game in theory had a lot of promise, or at least there was a picture painted that this could be an interesting and fun sandbox-style SciFi MMO. Closer to launch it showed many signs that this was a potential train wreck to be launched. I bought the game knowing that very well though, mainly because I wanted to support a non-mainstream developer, in case they had some good ideas.
The launch was indeed a train wreck and I was a bit disappointed looking more into detail of some actual gameplay elements – not as inspired as I had hoped it would be, not in areas I liked anyway. Even if the performance and bugs were sorted out I do not think I would have enjoyed the game anyway, so that was it for me.
The current state of the game seems to be that the game still has some quality issues and that they have started a transition to a “free-to-play” model – no new accounts can be created from December 1st and this will be in effect until the “F2P” revamp is completed some time in 2012.
Played this in the early parts of 2011. The open sandbox world was quite fascinating, but also consumed a lot of time. In the end I decided I did not have the desire to invest enough time in this game/world for it to feel worthwhile. Not sure if I will fo back to this particular game, but would definitely want to try something in the same sandbox spirit as Wurm.
Not a big fan of the Star Trek Universe, but I did enjoy creating my own races to play and making up some background and story for my characters. I played STO primarily a bit in the first couple of months of the year and also ended up playing on the Klingon side mainly – very much enjoyed playing my Klingon-sided engineer type (but my own race). I was very enthusiastic about creating missions with the Foundry also initially, but ended up now being anything completed. My inspiration for creating soemthign for the Star Trek universe ended up a bit lacking, although I did look into Klingon material (including the language) a bit as part of the research.
I will probably revisit the game when it changes its payment model.
Visited the geme a couple of times, mainly playing one character. I am a life-time subscriber, so the cryptic points keep piling up in the game. It has been ok to visit a few times, but for my spandex fix City of Heroes works so much better. At some point I should try out the content I have not treied out yet, but I have had difficulty building up enthusiasm to do so. Which is a shame perhaps.
A very hyped game in the early part of the year, which also is a well executed and polished game. I did avoid reading about the game consciously precisely because of all the hype and in late April/early May jumped in and tried the game. I liked many things with it, although I found the combat a bit annoying with the global cooldown timer and the skill trees which quickly cluttered up multiple hotbars. The soul system was nice, but I would have liked a different skill progression model within these souls.
Unfortunately for me, I signed up with a 6 month subscription. In June, after around 1 1/2 month of playing the game I quite quickly lost all interest in logging in and playing the game anymore. I had a brief attempt later in July to get back into the game, but could not muster up enough interest to keep playing. This was very similar to my play experience with LOTRO, which played out quite similar – although in that case I had pre-ordered and played in beta also. Lesson learned – do not sign up for a long payment period initially with a subscription-based fantasy game.
My only major visit into mobile MMO gaming and this on my Eee Pad – the screen is too small for my taste on a phone for these games. Was very fun to play for short periods of time, but after a while I lost interest. Still have the game installed, but rarely visit it any longer.
Bought this game for PS3 shortly after launch, primarily to see if there could finally be something MMOish to play on the household PS3 – which primarily is used to watch blu-ray movies. Dropped it quite quickly – not a DC fan and it felt like you had to be that to appreciate the content. The controls were really awkward to use also.
Reinstalled the game again on the PS3 after the “F2P” revamp and I thought the game was better now from a UI/control perspective – but could not find that much enthusiasm for the DC content. Maybe I will play it more – maybe.
My very first MMO. I jumped back into the game just prior to its 10th anniversary and I have had a pretty good time in the game, with some nice people. Still, the combat mechanics are quite different from what I appreciate nowadays, being too much auto-attack dependent. Funcom does not seem to spend much resources on the game currently, but have indicated that when the conversion to new engine for the game (same one that Age of Conan and The Secret World uses) is done _and_ they have done a profession revamp, they will do a relaunch effort for the game.
The graphics engine revamp is what mainly has been talked about, but I think the profession/combat revamp is just as important for the game, if they get it right. A new graphics engine can get people to come back or to try the game, but it is a profession gameplay revamp that may potentially keep them in the game. I have not played AO since I decided to focus on City of Heroes, but I hope to get back into the game at some point – hopefully Funcom gets to the point where the new engine and the revamp will be done during 2012.
A quite polished fantasy/steampunk title from big Chinese MMO maker Perfect World. Same as Rift, this game is very well executed – just not something I could muster up continued interest for.
A SciFi space shooter kind of MMO. The initial PvE storyline part of the game had me hooked and the space combat is very well executed and fun. But the story part ended abruptly and then it was mission grinding and/or PvP. While some mission were quite enjoyable it became a bit too repetitive for my taste, so lost some interest here. Should get back into the game again at some point – if they have more of the story-oriented content that the game started with I would love to play that.
Signed up for SWG again when I heard the announcement that they were going to shut down the game. Manged to play a bit in the game, primarily with some new characters I created. Really loved some parts which I remembered from the old days when i played the game, but also remembered why I ended up playing my particular combination of professions originally (ranger/creature handler) – that was one combination that did not feel grindy to me and which also supported scratching my exploration itch back then. It was not quite now.
I would have played the game longer, but a credit card related issue stopped my access to the game prematurely. I do not like the way SOE handled the shut down of my access; but at least my memory of the game is less coloured by what its current state was.
Bought this when it was on sale from Steam, after a brief visit in beta. Looking at what Heatwave had eleased before Gods & Heroes I am not quite sure why they decided to with a traditional MMO route, perhaps someone thought they might be able to make some easy money on a game that was in beta when the original game company went belly-up. This was another of those game where I really could not muster up enough interest to keep playing (and paying).
This is my main game and in the past few months my only game, pretty much. This part will be very brief here; most posts end up being about this game anyway. For good and bad, City of Heroes has evolved quite a bit over the years and at the same time been the same as well. The community aspect is important here, it is a game that feels like “home” to me more than any other MMO. It is the one game that I can be fairly sure to get a happy greeting from someone else when I log in and where most people I end up interacting with (friends or strangers) are for the most part friendly and nice to each other.
Other stuff, not gaming
A lot of other things has happened in this year, but not related to MMOs. In August I changed employer, after working for more than 12 years for an American software company. I really liked my actual job there and the collegues I worked with, but it was also a position that required a lot of travelling to other parts of Europe, and a few times to Middle East. During very long periods I only saw my home area/town/country on weekends and impacted how I my non-work life was handled.
With my new employer I can do a similar job to what did before and enjoyed, but also pretty much work so I can get home every day, instead of staying in a hotel room. It is a great company and a great group of new collegues.
My general fitness have had its ups and downs in recent years, but not stayed at a good level. In the past 11 months I have done a better job though with continued improvement and am in better shape now than a year ago, and also lost perhaps 17-18 kg. Still more to be done, but feels quite good.
If you have tried following what is happening with Anarchy Online you might know they have had an engine update in the plans for a couple of years now. This is still an ongoing work, working to get the same engine as is used by the other Funcom MMOs – Age of Conan and The Secret World. It is going slow, but they may be making some progress.
This week there were some screenshots posted from the new engine with a few pictures like the one below here:
Nowadays it seems that the devs rarely bother to update the web site itself when there is something new, so any brief look at the front page of the game website gives the impression that very little is happening. If one actually reads certain parts of the forums one can find the news and info there, but the web site itself is not the right place. This is unfortunate and hopefully they will start to change this once they get closer to actually release a game update with the new engine.
However, it seems also from the talk at the 10 year anniversary that they will also do a revamp of how the mechanics of the various professions work before the relaunch campaign will start – and there has not been that much about that part yet.
During the previous weekend Anarchy Online had its real-life 10 year celebration with players coming to the Funcom studios in Montreal, to hang out with the development team and celebrate the game’s anniversary. As part of that celebration they had a Q&A panel where game director Colin “Means” Cragg and senior designer Brad “Kintaii” McAtee answered questions from the players present.
The sound leaves a bit to be desired, although they added text for the questions at least. Perhaps one of the key answers for many was that the game will have a re-launch and marketing campaign, that will include the new engine and a profession rebalance – they hope to have this done this year.
With the new engine the game will look better, but at the same time they will not have redesigned all the textures and environment, which is a huge task in itself – the game has 425 playfields (zones and other areas) currently. If I understood it correctly they will have both new and old client supported, since estimates indicate 15-25% of the computers used to log in to the game could not support the new engine. The engine is the same engine as Age of Conan is using and The Secret World will use, so it should be capable.
Below are video recordings from the Q&A sessions in two parts. And after that is a player camcorder recording of a demonstration of the new engine – not ideal conditions, but that is the most up to date view anyway.
In the past month or so a majority of my MMO time has gone into Anarchy Online. I have definitely been sucked in and enjoy playing it, even though it certainly has a number of rough spots and it is not really newbie friendly (as in real newbies, not low level alts or second accounts).
I reached kind of a milestone this weekend with my Meta-Physicist, who I created now when I started playing again and who is now level 50. This is about as high that some of my old characters had reached before I left the game in 2002. Of course, in Anarchy Online terms level 50 is still a lowbie character – initial game had 200 levels and added another 20 with the Shadowlands expansion.
I have joined an organisation (i.e. guild in some other MMOs) and I have had a good time with a mix of solo play, some PUG play and also play with fellow organisation members. The general friendliness and helpfulness of a lot of player I think definitely makes up for many shortcomings in the game itself.
After playing the newbie island area a couple of times it strikes me that it is not particularly good in explaining a number of basics in the game. A completely new player will likely have some confusing moments. Reading some guides on fan sites such as AO Universe can go a long way to sort out some of the confusion, or even the game documentation. That being said, there may also be some guides that are out of date.
Having played through the games first 50 levels almost from scratch (did provide a bit of cash influx from other characters) one thing that strikes me is that it is easier to gain levels nowadays. Easier access to vehicles and the daily missions help with that. But the cash flow is not up to speed with increased leveling speed and I found myself needing to slow down my leveling in order to actually be able to gain enough money to afford upgrades when I needed them, even if I was somewhat restrictive with what I bought.
Most of my items were gained through mission rewards from mission terminals or loot drops in missions, which works pretty ok. But I also channeled some of the XP gained into research, which effectively improved a number of my skills while it slowed down leveling – without any research done I think I might have been a few levels higher. The daily missions give a full level of XP at these lower levels for each missions and some of them can even be as short as 5 minutes (like Gridrunner mission). But you do not get a level’s worth of cash flow with these, so you end up gaining levels too fast.
Still, a number of these daily missions are quite fun though and I definitely recommend trying them, even though I perhaps would not go as far as actually playing them daily.
Still, the game has a lot of character – NPC texts are quite enjoyable compared to a number of fantasy MMOs, weather effects and sound does a good job in setting the mood for different areas, as does the fact that areas are not completely crowded with mobs. You tend to take notice a bit more of the mobs when there are fewer of them. Also, various events and happenings also adds something extra – the alien mothership appearing for example, or run into an alien invasion attack all of a sudden when you enter a city area.
So has the time come for the 10 year anniversary of Anarchy Online! The game kicked off on June 27th 10 years ago and this weekend is party time weekend, both in and out of the game.
Happy birthday, Anarchy Online!
Have not seen any 10 year videos up on YouTube yet, so will add a pointer to one of my favourites for AO (again):
There are a few MMO games that expose an API (application programming interface) to allow for various add-ons to be built to the game client; the most recent to announce such an interface is Rift. In a way Anarchy Online also have a way to include add-ons, but in a different manner and probably unintentional originally.
Not too far after the initial release of the game Funcom released something that was and has been fairly unique among MMOs – an external chat client to the in-game chat. Using a Java applet one would use it to chat with people in-game (or others using the same chat client), without the need to log in into the game.
That was a quite neat feature and it did not take long until other players had figured out how the chat interface worked and started to write their own chat clients. And after that came the idea to introduce “bots”, external software that logged in as a user and throught he chat interface provided various types of services to players – i.e. ask a question and get an answer back. One of the early bots of this kind was Helpbot. Helpbot is the name of the character that one sends tells to, which is run by a pice of software outside of the game.
This mechanic has been extended with many new features over the years; nowadays the bot software is modular, so they run with a common core functionality which can be extended by adding additional modules to it. Information about variout bot software can be found at AODevs wiki, which also have pages for some specific instances of bots on Atlantean and Rimor. Many organisations (a.k.a. guilds in some other MMOs) seem to have a bot of their own to provide various added functionality to its members. A partial list of modules available from one of the bots is shown below (that is maybe half of the whole list).
With many added features to the in-game functionality through the chat interface this is a different approach to the APIs exposed by some other MMOs, with different advantages and disadvantages:
- This mechanic only extends things that can be operated through the chat interface; it has to work within the confines of the existing interface if things are shown in the game (but some modules open up external web pages). The API approach can be a bit more flexible here, depending on what the game developers choose to expose.
- There is no requirement that each and every player install something extra – this is an advantage compared to add-ons that are installed locally; it is really nothing to mess around with for the user to install, update or remove.
- The performance and utilization of these features may affect game chat servers and be more dependent on outside running software than the local computer. That is a trade-off to not have to install anything locally.
- Setting up a bot requires more effort to set up, but on the other hand this is an effort that only a few people are doing.
Lately I have almost exclusively played only one MMO – Anarchy Online. The only other game that have received a bit of time i Star Trek Online and my Klingon captain. But the other games; Rift, City of Heroes, Black Prophecy etc have not had any gameplay.
I have had a number of incidents that perhaps would not happen in the more modern MMOs:
- debuffed myself so I could not use any skills on my hotbar, because my nano target was aimed at me rather than the enemy
- temporaily lost most of the XP for a level when dying
- picked and recieved missions really out of my league – initially
- chased across an entire zone by one or more mobs – sometimes with a successful escape, sometimes not
- tried to run past enemies much too high level for me that were next to a mission location
but I have also:
- enjoyed some really witty NPC and mission dialogue
- have had help and buffs from really nice and friendly fellow players
- seen some really fun outfits
- explored some neat scenary and good music for setting the mood
- travelled and explored across big land areas
- played some fun and enjoyable missions
- played some fun professions
Many of the things on the first list are in some way negatives, but have also done something more positive. I have learned to be more aware of where I have the two targets (fight target and nano target). The zone chases have been kind of a rush when I successfully escaped and also memorable when I did not escape – I learned a few things from the experience and saw some more views I would not have seen otherwise
The XP loss can be annoying, but is not permanent – everything is pooled and added back as extra XP when going at it again. So while one has to start from an earlier stage the leveling speed is increased though, which is kind of a nice pat on the back compared to an XP debt which slows you down after death. Since you can at most lose what you earned during the current level and the levels are fairly quick, there is not necessarily a big deal.
Since the experience is not so smooth and streamlined like some more modern games, the leveling experience can vary quite a bit. I was on a mission to hunt Shy Eremites (no shy old men in desolate places, but rather sandworm type creatures) and were placing thumpers on the ground (very Dune-inspired) to attract them. Initially fighting one of these eremites were a bit daunting – it took a couple of bites of me and I was pretty much done. And I had a mission to track down and kill 5 of these – and my nearest resurrection spot was not close.